Turning old clothes into high-end building materials

  Last updated December 20, 2018 at 4:04 pm

Topics:  

Waste alchemist Professor Veena Sahajwalla and her team have turned old clothing and glass into high-quality building products.


Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Director of UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT), with glass waste ceramic tiles. Credit: UNSW


Researchers at UNSW Sydney have developed an effective process to turn old clothing and textiles into high-quality building products such as flat panels.


These high-end composite products can have a wood veneer look or a ceramic-style finish and were lab tested for qualities such as fire and water resistance, flexibility, acoustic and load-bearing capabilities, but are yet to undergone formal regulatory assessment.


“It could be said that consumers and the fashion industry have a lot to answer for, given that clothing is now one of the biggest consumer waste streams, with 92 million tons estimated to be thrown out a year globally,” says Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Director of UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT), who led the research.


“The clothing and textiles industry is the second most polluting sector in the world, accounting for 10% of the world’s total carbon emissions.”


The researchers began by collecting a range of discarded clothes, bedding, and mattresses, as well as polymer textiles from shopping bags and disposable lab coats. After removing the zippers, buttons, buckles, the textiles were shredded finely.


Using heat and pressure, the fibres were then induced to stick together, forming the solid panels.


Wood waste was also added to some trials to broaden the range of panel finishes and properties.


This follows a separate but related research exercise that converted used glass into ceramics and engineered stone suitable for benchtops and tiles in kitchens and bathrooms that can come in all sort of sizes, colours and finishes.


While existing glass recycling requires glass to be separated into individual glass types, Sahajwalla’s process used mixed glass waste and was less sensitive to the presence of contaminants. The researchers claim the products had mechanical properties comparable to natural and engineered stone products.


Sahajwalla and her team have been scientifically reforming common waste items using prototype technology which has been developed for a laboratory-scale ‘green microfactory’ to be launched in 2019.


“These newly published results of the wonderful products developed from waste come as an effort to find ways to reduce waste and address our unsustainable landfill problems, which all countries are experiencing,” she said.


Microfactories of the future


Reforming old clothing and mixed waste glass into various high-quality building products represents a new way to convert low-value waste into high-value products and materials. This new work builds on technology which can recover and reform materials from electronic waste from UNSW’s demonstration e-waste microfactory launched in April 2018.


That microfactory involves a number of small machines that fit into a small room. The discarded electronic devices and items are first placed into a module to break them down. The next module may involve a special robot to extract useful parts. Another module uses a small furnace to separate the metallic parts into valuable materials, while another one reforms the plastic into filament suitable for 3D printing.


Professor Sahajwalla said that when considering that the population growth trend is expected to jump from a current world population of 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion by 2050, the earth’s resources need to be preserved and re-used rather than put in landfill or incinerated.


“There is much that can be done right now given that scientifically-developed, proven methods are currently available through our green microfactory technology,” she said. “Rather than export our rubbish overseas and to create more land fill, green microfactory technology has the potential to enable small- and large-scale creation of newly manufactured products instead.”


While the textiles materials tested exceptional well in labs to mechanical performance properties including strength, flexibility and resistance, further lab testing is required to explore these properties ahead of consideration of applying for any formal assessment against construction regulations.


Professor Sahajwalla said green microfactories can not only produce high performance materials and products, they eliminate the necessity of expensive machinery, save on the extraction from the environment of yet more natural materials, and reduce the waste burden.


Building panels made from unwanted clothing. Credit: UNSW


Recent UNSW consumer research showed most people did not believe the waste materials they put out in their recycle bins is actually recycled but ends up in landfill, with 91.7% of people saying is it very or somewhat important for Australia to invest in technology to ‘reform’ most common waste to reduce landfill.


A major impediment to new solutions to the waste problem, Professor Sahajwalla said, was getting the technology commercialised and into the market, and without government incentives to attract industry and change behaviour progress would be slow.


Glass stockpiles alone amount to more than one million tonnes per year nationally. In total, Australia produces nearly 65 million tonnes of industrial and domestic solid waste each year, but it is now cheaper to import than recycle glass here. About 60 per cent of waste is reportedly recycled but much of this is low value.


Related


Micro-factories – turning the world’s waste burden into economic opportunities


Veena Sahajwalla – The E-Waste Alchemist


Without China importing plastic waste, we’re kinda stuffed




About the Author

UNSW Newsroom
The latest and best news from the University of New South Wales.

Published By

Featured Videos

Placeholder
A future of nanobots in 180 seconds
Placeholder
Multi-user VR opens new worlds for medical research
Placeholder
Precision atom qubits achieve major quantum computing milestone
Placeholder
World's first complete design of a silicon quantum computer chip
Placeholder
Micro-factories - turning the world's waste burden into economic opportunities
Placeholder
Flip-flop qubits: a whole new quantum computing architecture
Placeholder
Ancient Babylonian tablet - world's first trig table
Placeholder
Life on Earth - and Mars?
Placeholder
“Desirable defects: Nano-scale structures of piezoelectrics” – Patrick Tung
Placeholder
Keeping Your Phone Safe from Hackers
Placeholder
Thru Fuze - a revolution in chronic back pain treatment (2015)
Placeholder
Breakthrough for stem cell therapies (2016)
Placeholder
The fortune contained in your mobile phone
Placeholder
Underwater With Emma Johnston
Placeholder
Flip-flop qubits: a whole new quantum computing architecture
Placeholder
The “Dressed Qubit” - breakthrough in quantum state stability (2016)
Placeholder
Pinpointing qubits in a silicon quantum computer (2016)
Placeholder
How to build a quantum computer in silicon (2015)
Placeholder
Quantum computer coding in silicon now possible (2015)
Placeholder
Crucial hurdle overcome for quantum computing (2015)
Placeholder
New world record for silicon quantum computing (2014)
Placeholder
Quantum data at the atom's heart (2013)
Placeholder
Towards a quantum internet (2013)
Placeholder
Single-atom transistor (2012)
Placeholder
Down to the Wire (2012)
Placeholder
Landmark in quantum computing (2012)
Placeholder
1. How Quantum Computers Will Change Our World
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – What will a quantum computer do?
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – Quantum Hardware
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – Quantum Algorithms
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – Quantum Logic
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – Entanglement
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts - Quantum Measurement
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – Spin
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts - Quantum Bits
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts - Binary Logic
Placeholder
Rose Amal - Sustainable fuels from the Sun
Placeholder
Veena Sahajwalla - The E-Waste Alchemist
Placeholder
Katharina Gaus - Extreme Close-up on Immunity
Placeholder
In her element - Professor Emma Johnston
Placeholder
Martina Stenzel - Targeting Tumours with Tiny Assassins
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Why are we all athletes?
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Megafauna murder mystery
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Why are we so hairy?
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Why grannies matter
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Why do only humans experience puberty?
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Evolution of the backside
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Why we use symbols
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Evolutionary MasterChefs
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - The Paleo Diet fad
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Are races real?
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Are We Still Evolving?
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Dangly Bits
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: Climate Migrants
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: De-Extinction
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: Nuclear Disasters
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: Storm Surges
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: How the Japan tsunami changed science
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: How the World Trade Centre collapsed
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: Bushfires